High winds – Labour conference 2019

The Labour conference finished today but already feels a bit like old news so I’ll just observe that yesterday Brighton saw the best and the worst of our current politics.

Brighton West PierThe worst: our useless and outmoded electoral system means that factionalism dominates our parties (even the Lib Dems have splits between the two traditions of their former parties). At Labour that still means that decisions are viewed – even now – as whether they are ‘good for Jeremy’ rather than on their own merits. Given that the Labour conference schedule was wrecked by prime minister Johnson’s antics (Parliament would possibly not be sitting today if Johnson hadn’t been acting fast and loose with prorogation), Johnson has been a more effective ally to those who wanted Tom Watson silenced than was Jon Lansman. (By the way, a personal highlight of this year’s conference was when I got accosted by an agitated gentleman. ‘ARE YOU JON LANSMAN?’ he roared. Sadly my shirts aren’t as colourful as the Momentum Chair’s.)

Labour were last in Brighton two years ago, when the party’s various wings were still high on having worked together in what had seemed a romantic lost cause, uniting behind the 2017 manifesto. A different sort of leader, riding on having settled the leadership question, might have actually chosen to unite the party. But the chance has long gone and you get the feeling that, increasingly, non-believers stay away from conference. Shadow cabinet ministers feel the need to reference their support for Corbyn in their speeches. It feels needy and a bit insecure and very different from the confident, if ultimately doomed, 2014 conference in which Ed Miliband tried to persuade the nation of his prime ministerial credentials.

The best of yesterday (other than, naturally, the Alcohol Health Alliance’s exhibition stand): an excellent fringe hosted by the Institute for Government and Cancer Research UK focusing on health. The discussion took a long term view, ranging from sustainability and workforce development to resources hitting the front line. Politicians and practitioners agreed on the need for long-term decisions to be taken, even though the ministers who take those decisions probably won’t get the personal credit for them. No one is naïve enough to think that the rules of political incentives are likely to change any time soon, but for once it was great to have a serious discussion that wasn’t based on the need for a soundbite or an immediate reaction.

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